VJ Um Amel: Digital Activism, Remix, & Revolution

VJ Um Amel is the screen name for Professor Laila Shereen Sakr who has a background in media and social uprising. Using social media for activism is a contemporary phenomenon that not many people are studying. In an article from USC’s Andrew Good, VJ Um Amel, who was a doctoral student at the university, noted that “disparate groups” can make contact through Twitter, such as the protestors in Ferguson receiving advice “from Palestinians in Gaza about teargas.” Theses social technologies are so important because human rights are constantly violated. While I was reading this article, I found it connected to what sparked my interest in media. When I took Media Criticism I became interested in a similar topic that VJ Um Amel explores, using Twitter for #BlackLivesMatter. I studied the Egyptian Revolution as a foundation to digital media activism and then moved onto activism over Twitter in the United States. Like VJ Um Amel says, studying Russian literature is the way you should start studying the development of the novel and that studying social media in the Middle East is the way to start studying digital activism. VJ Um Amel’s foundation is in documenting the Egyptian Revolution using technologies, creating the data visualization software R-Shief, and turning “real-time” revolution dialogue into visualizations (hashtags, YouTube videos, key words). One goal of the project is to facilitate “more meaningful dialogue” about human rights and politics in a world where media can be biased, misleading, and/or corrupt. With this data, she moves into the realm of digital art, remixing the data produced from Egyptian activists. This process can be described as “data poetic,” giving the raw data/footage more feeling and emotion through art. For example, in her video #JAN25 Remix by for the People of #Egypt, she uses music that matches the adrenaline protestors felt mixed with the original sounds of chanting, gunfire, and newscasts. This remix creates an immersive, emotional experience that encapsulates the complexity and impact of the Egyptian Revolution, making it hard to watch at times. Dylan Schenker calls this “VJ-ing,” a new type of filmmaking where material from different individuals, often captured by social media users, is remixed, framing the revolution from the perspective of those that were on in the midst of it.

This work reminds me what I saw in a documentary, called The Square, where the fall of the Egyptian regime is documented from the ground. It followed two activists, Ahmed Hassan and Khalid Abdalla, showing grassroots organizations, brutality, complexity of overthrowing a regime, and the struggle of working as a collective to establish a new government. The documentary activists used YouTube to display the injuries of police brutality, filmed the American can of gas thrown at activists by the police, and used social media to stay updated on statuses of corruption and uprisings. Social media can be used as a way to bridge oppression, giving a platform for individual voices to be heard and not mainstream media sources.

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